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Week 26 Pitching Forecaster

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Championships are at stake in Fantasy Week 26 (Sept. 23-29) and some titles just might come down to which pitchers you stream into your rotation.

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This week's pitching options include a bumper crop of two-start pitchers and there are some promising ones still sitting on waivers. Marco Estrada is still available in close to half the leagues on CBSSports.com, while Charlie Morton, Tanner Roark and Garrett Richards are free agents in a large majority of leagues. Then there's Yordano Ventura, who just made his major league debut for the Royals. The 22-year-old won't be the favored choice for owners who want to go with proven producers in the season's final week, but especially for those who need to overcome a deficit this week, the hard-throwing phenom is largely unowned and could provide an enormous boost.

Felix Hernandez (oblique) owners may not have to go to the waiver wire to get an upgrade. They can just go to the bench or DL slot where Hernandez resides, should they have stashed him for Week 25. Hernandez will re-enter the Mariners' rotation Sunday and he lines up to start again on the final day of the season against Oakland.

Jered Weaver and Andrew Cashner could see their ranking change over the weekend. Weaver was scratched from his Friday start against the Mariners with tightness in his right forearm, so because of the risk of him missing another start, he is currently ranked No. 48. Cashner is unranked, as MLB.com has reported that he may get shut down after this Sunday's outing versus the Dodgers, but he would be a certain addition to the top 70 should he get a start in Week 26.

Note: Season-to-date stats are current through the day games played on Thursday, Sept. 19.

Monday update: There is still no definitive word on whether Jered Weaver will make his scheduled start Wednesday, but as he was able to throw a bullpen session Sunday, he's worth taking a chance on in standard mixed leagues. Owners should be sure to find replacements for Zack Wheeler and Andrew Cashner, though. Wheeler has been shut down for the year, and Cashner has only the slimmest of hopes to make another start due to innings concerns. Good Fantasy replacements could come from the Mets' and Padres' rotations, as Jonathon Niese and Tyson Ross look to inherit two-start weeks.

There are several other pitchers new to the Two-Start Club since last Thursday. Hiroki Kuroda, John Lackey and Ubaldo Jimenez headline this group, which also includes Aaron Harang, Zach Miner and Todd Redmond. Depending on how the White Sox and Rockies configure their rotations this week, Hector Santiago and Tyler Chatwood could also start twice in Week 26.

The unfortunate pitchers to lose a second start over the weekend were Johnny Cueto, Alex Wood, Danny Salazar and Mark Buehrle. The same fate befell Kyle Kendrick (shoulder), who has been shut down for the year.

My Top 70 Starting Pitchers for Week 26
Rank Player Start 1 Start 2
1 Yu Darvish HOU (Peacock) LAA (Vargas)
2 Adam Wainwright WAS (Roark) CHC (Samardzija)
3 Justin Verlander @MIN (Pelfrey) @MIA (Flynn)
4 Clayton Kershaw COL (Chacin) N/A
5 Mike Minor MIL (Estrada) PHI (Halladay)
6 Anibal Sanchez @MIA (Turner) N/A
7 Max Scherzer @MIN (Correia) N/A
8 Zack Greinke COL (McHugh) N/A
9 Hyun-Jin Ryu @SF (Cain) COL (Nicasio)
10 Matt Cain LAD (Ryu) SD (Ross)
11 Cliff Lee @ATL (Teheran) N/A
12 Cole Hamels @MIA (Hand) N/A
13 Felix Hernandez OAK (Griffin) N/A
14 David Price @NYY (Hughes) N/A
15 Chris Sale KC (Guthrie) N/A
16 Stephen Strasburg @ARI (Corbin) N/A
17 Mat Latos PIT (Burnett) N/A
18 Madison Bumgarner LAD (Nolasco) N/A
19 Francisco Liriano @CHC (Arrieta) N/A
20 Hiroki Kuroda TB (Moore) @HOU (Bedard)
21 Matt Moore @NYY (Kuroda) @TOR (Redmond)
22 Marco Estrada @ATL (Minor) @NYM (Niese)
23 John Lackey @COL (Chatwood) @BAL (Tillman)
24 Clay Buchholz @BAL (Feldman) N/A
25 Hisashi Iwakuma KC (Santana) N/A
26 James Shields @CHW (Johnson) N/A
27 Gio Gonzalez @STL (Wacha) N/A
28 Johnny Cueto NYM (Harang) N/A
29 Ervin Santana @SEA (Iwakuma) N/A
30 Kris Medlen PHI (Cloyd) N/A
31 A.J. Burnett @CIN (Latos) N/A
32 Julio Teheran PHI (Lee) N/A
33 Derek Holland HOU (Lyles) LAA (Richards)
34 Patrick Corbin WAS (Strasburg) N/A
35 Homer Bailey PIT (Locke) N/A
36 Jose Quintana TOR (Happ) KC (Ventura)
37 A.J. Griffin @LAA (Richards) @SEA (Hernandez)
38 Doug Fister @MIN (Diamond) N/A
39 Charlie Morton @CHC (Samardzija) @CIN (Arroyo)
40 Garrett Richards OAK (Griffin) @TEX (Holland)
41 Chris Archer BAL (Chen) @TOR (Happ)
42 Tyson Ross ARI (Miley) @SF (Cain)
43 Jordan Zimmermann @STL (Miller) N/A
44 Ubaldo Jimenez CHW (Santiago) @MIN (Pelfrey)
45 Yordano Ventura @SEA (Maurer) @CHW (Quintana)
46 Jonathon Niese @CIN (Leake) MIL (Estrada)
47 Wade Miley @SD (Ross) WAS (Roark)
48 Tanner Roark @STL (Wainwright) @ARI (Miley)
49 Bartolo Colon @LAA (Weaver) N/A
50 Gerrit Cole @CHC (Rusin) N/A
51 Jered Weaver OAK (Colon) N/A
52 C.J. Wilson @TEX (Ogando) N/A
53 Alex Cobb @NYY (Nova) N/A
54 Dillon Gee MIL (Hellweg) N/A
55 Dan Haren @ARI (McCarthy) N/A
56 Jake Peavy @COL (Oswalt) N/A
57 R.A. Dickey TB (Hellickson) N/A
58 Sonny Gray @SEA (Saunders) N/A
59 Corey Kluber @MIN (De Vries) N/A
60 Jon Lester @BAL (Chen) N/A
61 Danny Salazar CHW (Rienzo) N/A
62 Jarrod Parker @SEA (Ramirez) N/A
63 Dan Straily @LAA (Vargas) N/A
64 Michael Wacha WAS (Gonzalez) N/A
65 Ivan Nova TB (Cobb) N/A
66 Martin Perez HOU (Keuchel) N/A
67 Jeff Samardzija PIT (Morton) @STL (Wainwright)
68 Shelby Miller WAS (Zimmermann) N/A
69 Lance Lynn CHC (Wood) N/A
70 Brandon McCarthy @SD (Stults) WAS (Haren)

Honorable mention: Wei-Yin Chen @TB (Archer), vs. BOS (Lester); Bronson Arroyo vs. PIT (Morton).

Two-Start Options to Consider

Matt Cain, Giants (LAD, SD): Over the past two months, Cain has looked more like himself, failing to post a quality start only once in nine tries and compiling a 2.24 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. He is practically universally owned, but Cain is currently benched in 42 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com. He is a must-start for any owner who is playing for something this week.
This week's rank: 10
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Marco Estrada, Brewers (@ATL, @NYM): Estrada has been much improved since returning from hamstring and back injuries, putting up a 2.62 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in seven starts. As you'd probably guess, those stats don't seem sustainable, but he has been looking more like the pitcher who broke out in 2012, throwing more strikes and getting more popups. Even with some regression, Estrada will do a good enough job of avoiding contact and limiting hits on balls in play and walks to be worth starting in just about any league.
This week's rank: 22
My take: Marginal standard mixed league start.

John Lackey, Red Sox (@COL, @BAL): Lackey is winding up a phenomenal comeback season in which he has obliterated his previous career-best K-to-BB ratio with a 4.0 mark. The onetime Angel's command hasn't withered during the home stretch, as he has struck out 32 batters over his last 43 2/3 innings while walking only seven. Lackey has also been very efficient, and he's lasted more than seven innings in four of his last six starts.
This week's rank: 23
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Derek Holland, Rangers (HOU, LAA): The whiffs and strikeouts have dried up for Holland over his last four starts overall, though he did manage 11 swinging strikes and four Ks in a recent outing against the Angels over 5 2/3 innings. He really hasn't had a good week in September yet, but given that Holland's velocity and movement numbers haven't changed much, there's no reason to think he can't rebound from this brief slump. His season-to-date stats still paint a picture of a hurler worth using in the vast majority of leagues.
This week's rank: 33
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jose Quintana, White Sox (TOR, KC): Quintana is going on three full months of sustaining high strikeout and whiff rates, and he's also sharpened his control in the process. If Quintana regresses from the 3.01 ERA and 1.22 WHIP he has registered since July, it won't be by much. That makes him close to a must-start in a two-start week.
This week's rank: 36
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

A.J. Griffin, Athletics (@LAA, @SEA): Griffin's reliance on good control and flyball outs doesn't always work, as his paltry 48 percent quality start rate shows. It has helped him to a 4-0 record over his last five starts. His last three outings have been a little different, though, as Griffin has induced whiffs on 14 percent of his pitches and notched 23 strikeouts in 19 innings. Griffin benefited from facing the Astros, Twins and Angels -- all teams who can't count contact skills among their strong suits. In Week 26, Griffin gets the Angels again, as well as the whiff- prone Mariners.
This week's rank: 37
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Charlie Morton, Pirates (@CHC, @CIN): For the first time since becoming primarily a sinkerball pitcher, Morton is throwing with decent command while also getting swings-and-misses at a reasonable rate. While he's no more than an average strikeout pitcher, given how good he is at avoiding extra-base hits, that's enough to give him value in Fantasy. Morton has seven quality starts in his last nine outings, and he should build on that string in the season's final week.
This week's rank: 39
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Garrett Richards, Angels (OAK, @TEX): While Richards is not as reliant on his sinker as Morton is, he has had similar success in inducing grounders and limiting extra-base hits. Richards' control has eluded him at times, but since joining the Angels' rotation in August, he been reliable, if not spectacular. The scuffling Rangers shouldn't present too much of a challenge, and just this Tuesday, Richards handled the A's lineup with few problems. He is still available in more than three-fourths of the leagues on CBSSports.com and can play an important role in helping contenders to seal a championship.
This week's rank: 40
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Chris Archer, Rays (BAL, @TOR): After hitting a snag in his first two starts in September, Archer has rebounded with two outings that resemble his strong work from July and August much more strongly. While improved control has gone a long way towards making Archer viable in standard mixed leagues, he's also had a schedule that has included few visits to hitter-friendly parks. That will change this week when he pitches at Rogers Centre, but with the lowest OBP (.277) in the majors in September, the Blue Jays won't likely do much damage with whatever power they display.
This week's rank: 41
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Tyson Ross, Padres (ARI, @SF): Unless the Padres call upon Andrew Cashner to make one more start or find someone else to stretch the rotation out to include six pitchers, Ross will make two starts. He is nowhere close to matching last season's 151 2/3 innings logged between the majors and Triple-A last season, so there's no apparent reason for the Padres to keep Ross from making both starts. Ross has been good at getting strikeouts and ground balls, particularly in the latter part of the season, so owners shouldn't worry about Ross cooling off.
This week's rank: 42
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians (CHW, @MIN): Jimenez has struggled to find consistency in recent years, but he's had it lately, rolling off six straight quality starts with a cumulative 1.52 ERA. He has been mostly good since the All-Star break, though Jimenez has probably been a bit fortunate to have allowed only three home runs in 71 innings. Still, his command has improved enough that he deserves to be used in this two-start week.
This week's rank: 44
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Yordano Ventura, Royals (@SEA, @CHW): Ventura had a good major league debut Tuesday, holding the Indians to one run in 5 2/3 innings, but it was a little disappointing that he recorded only three strikeouts. It's even more of a letdown that Ventura got batters to swing and miss on only two of his 86 pitches. He had too much success with getting whiffs in the minors for him to get so few in future starts. At the very least, he should fare better against a contact-poor Mariners lineup.
This week's rank: 45
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jonathon Niese, Mets (@CIN, MIL): Niese is finishing the season on a high note, having posted a 2.68 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over his last seven starts. His command has been much better than it was earlier in the season, and if not for a .332 BABIP over this recent stretch, his stats -- particularly his WHIP -- could be even better. Strangely, Niese has been getting benched in CBSSports.com leagues in recent weeks, even though his performance has improved, but it's a worthwhile move to get him active for the season's final week.
This week's rank: 46
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Wade Miley, Diamondbacks (@SD, WAS): Going back to late June, Miley has had very few subpar starts and his command has been strong, so Thursday's five-inning affair versus the Dodgers (3 ER, 4 BB, 3 K) looks like nothing more than a hiccup. It's not typical of Miley to have trouble throwing strikes or issue too many walks, though he has done so on occasion this season. Particularly over his last 16 starts, Miley has been largely consistent in his ability to keep walks and extra-base hits to a minimum. That will come in handy against the Nationals, who have improved their walk rate and Isolated Power as the season has worn on.
This week's rank: 47
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Tanner Roark, Nationals (@STL, @ARI): The Nationals' rookie might have gotten away with some favorable scheduling, facing the Marlins and Mets in his first two big league starts. In blanking the Braves with just two hits over seven innings Tuesday, Mr. Roark continues to live on his very own Fantasy Island. (Yes, it's pronounced Ro-ark, and the spelling is different from Ricardo Montalban's character, but you get the idea.) Then again, Roark may still have his biggest tests ahead of him, as the Braves have not hit well in September. Some dropoff is almost certain, but Roark should be able to succeed thanks to superb control.
This week's rank: 48
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jeff Samardzija, Cubs (PIT, @STL): In my recent By the Numbers column, I detailed the apparent bad luck Samardzija has had with homers. A 3.49 xFIP also suggests that Samardzija has deserved a much better fate this season, as compared to his actual 4.42 ERA. Samardzjia has been erratic enough that he is not worth starting if you're trying to protect a lead, but he offers enough upside to be a justifiable choice if you need to make up ground in this final week.
This week's rank: 67
My take: Marginal standard mixed league start.

Brandon McCarthy, Diamondbacks (@SD, WAS): Lately, McCarthy has made Bartolo Colon and Bronson Arroyo look absolutely bereft of control. He has issued a single walk over his last 36 innings, during which he has thrown 72 percent of his pitches for strikes. That makes McCarthy a borderline possibility in standard mixed leagues, but because he allows so much contact, he could be a volatile choice. The Nationals, who lead the NL in runs for September, could be an especially dangerous start, so if you use McCarthy in a standard mixed league, just know that he comes with significant risk.
This week's rank: 70
My take: Marginal standard mixed league start.

Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles (@TB, BOS): Through the end of July, Chen had gotten away with allowing only five home runs over 75 1/3 innings, even though he continued to be distinctly skewed towards allowing flyballs. Since then, luck has caught up with Chen, as he has given up 12 homers in just 52 innings. He has made only four road starts, so the schedule has worked against him, but a start against the Red Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards looks dicey. However, a start at Tropicana Field gives Chen enough value to be worth starting in deeper formats.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: Deeper mixed league start.

Chris Tillman, Orioles (TOR, BOS): As is the case with Chen, Tillman's flyball tendencies haven't hurt him much away from Oriole Park at Camden Yards, as his 3.30 road ERA attests. In Baltimore, Tillman has allowed 22 home runs -- the most yielded by a pitcher at his home park this year -- and compiled a 4.07 ERA. Maybe Tillman can keep the ball in the park against a depleted Blue Jays lineup, but the Red Sox could ruin his week.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: Deeper mixed league start.

Jason Vargas, Angels (OAK, @TEX): Vargas has had a difficult September, but he's sure to improve on a .422 BABIP and overall .360 opponents' batting average. He hasn't just been hurt by base hits; it's extra bases that have played a big role in Vargas' 8.41 ERA for the month. That's not a new problem and one that isn't likely to fade, especially against a power-heavy Athletics' lineup.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: Deeper mixed league start.

Bruce Chen, Royals (@SEA, @CHW): Chen gets good matchups this week, but he is so prone to flyballs and contact in general that he's difficult to trust against any opponent. The lefty has also shown that, if he afford his defense the opportunity to help him, he can stifle fearsome opponents. After all, Chen has registered strong starts against the Red Sox, Tigers and Orioles this season. As soon as you find yourself tempted by Chen's schedule this week, take a look at some of his lesser starts and then pay a visit to the waiver wire. There should be plenty more reliable options to pursue.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: Deeper mixed league start.

Roy Halladay, Phillies (@MIA, @ATL): Though Halladay's overall numbers since returning from the DL are not very impressive, he has turned in three quality starts in five tries. One of those came against the anemic Marlins, and he gets to face them again this week. Still, it's hard to trust any pitcher who throws fewer than three of every five pitches for strikes, and that's what Halladay has done this year. At least lately, he's not getting enough strikeouts or ground balls to make up for it.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: Deeper mixed league start.

Eric Stults, Padres (ARI, @SF): Stults' story is similar to Vargas', although his slump goes all the way back to mid-July. Since the All-Star break, Stults has compiled a 5.26 ERA and 1.55 WHIP, with a .359 BABIP claiming much of the responsibility. As with Vargas, Stults could allow hits at a lower rates in his final starts, but owners should not expect him to slow down the frequency with which he allows extra bases. At least Vargas has good reason to expect some run support, whereas the Padres have been among one of the majors' lowest-scoring offenses this year.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: NL-only start.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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